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Jan. 26, 2016, 2:27 p.m.

Knight News Challenge winners focus on data and transparency

17 projects will receive a total of $3.2 million to track police misconduct, improve the FOIA process, and more.

The Knight Foundation just announced the latest round of winners in the Knight News Challenge and its latest batch of Knight Prototype Fund grantees: 17 projects in all, awarded $3.2 million.

This iteration of the News Challenge focused on how data can be used to improve communities, and many of the projects — such as efforts to track policing, make FOIA easier, or follow legislation — have the potential to aid journalists. The winners were announced Tuesday afternoon at an event in New York. Eight projects will receive grants between $237,589 and $470,000. The other nine winners will be presented $35,000 through the Prototype Fund, which provides structured funding and support for early-stage projects. Since the News Challenge launched in 2007, Knight has funded 190 projects through it, totaling $47 million. (Disclosure: Nieman Lab also receives funding from Knight, though not through the News Challenge.)

“The winning projects reveal new ways to shape and deliver information through data — showing how it can be used to build stronger more informed communities, while inviting people to explore and innovate,” John Bracken, Knight’s vice president for media innovation, said in a statement.

Several grantees, for example, are focused on bettering transparency around policing. A group of researchers from Stanford University was awarded $310,000 to develop Law, Order, and Algorithms: Making Sense of 100 Million Highway Patrol Stops, an initiative that will “collect, release and analyze more than 100 million highway patrol stops conducted over the last several years across the United States.” One of the goals of the project is to help journalists investigate accusations of racial profiling in traffic stops.

In Chicago, the Citizens Police Data Project won $400,000 to build out a database of police misconduct reports that the Invisible Institute, a nonprofit group, published in 2014 after a lengthy legal fight with the city of Chicago. Journalists, including reporters with City Bureau, a community newsroom for youth on the city’s south and west sides, are already using information from the Invisible Institute database, but the Knight grant will allow the project to make it easier to access and sort the data while also improving the way individuals can file complaints.

Another winning project is Security Force Monitor, a project of Columbia University’s Human Rights Institute, which will gather “unstructured data from government sources, the media and civil society groups” to track police, military, and security forces from around the globe.

The Knight Prototype Fund is a six-month cycle that gives the winners the resources to develop their ideas. The process begins with a training seminar focused on human-centered design and then finishes with the grantees coming together to present their projects to one another.

Some of the Prototype Fund winners include FOIA Mapper, an attempt to make it simpler to file freedom of information requests and find public information. Another project, Legislation Tracker: Beyond the Bills, is aiming to create a tool that will allow users to bills as they progress through the New Jersey State Legislature.

Two North Carolina government bodies also won prototype grants. The city of Raleigh is building an open-source project to improve the search process on city websites. It explains that “a search for ‘budget’ on would yield intuitive, attractive graphs and charts.” The Charlotte Area Transit System will develop Charlotte ZipBus, a mobile platform that will improve how residents can track public transit in the city.

Here is a full list of the winners:

All the Places Personal Data Goes (Cambridge, Mass.)

Award: $440,000
Organization: Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University
Project lead: Latanya Sweeney
Twitter: @thedatamap, @latanyasweeney

People share details of their lives widely – whether they are buying an app or providing information to their doctor – often trusting companies and others with intimate facts. But where does that data end up? In many cases, once an organization acquires this information, it can legally share it with others without clear notice – whether the information be medical history, or a name and GPS location. This project aims to create a crowdsourced resource that documents how data is being shared by companies and organizations. Through a game-like portal, members of the public will become “data detectives,” earning points for locating and reporting evidence of data sharing arrangements. The result will be a detailed database of personal data sharing arrangements that can be visualized, and help the public spot potential risks, benefits and opportunities.

Citizens Police Data Project (Chicago)

Award: $400,000
Organization: The Experimental Station in partnership with The Invisible Institute
Project leads: Harry Backlund, Alison Flowers, Darryl Holliday, Chaclyn Hunt, Jamie Kalven, Rajiv Sinclair, and WuDi Wu
Twitter: @invinst

Two years ago, after a decade of litigation and advocacy, the Invisible Institute won a significant legal victory in Illinois requiring that all recorded allegations of police abuse be made public. The Citizens Police Data Project will create a toolkit to make it easier for the public to engage with this data through: an easier complaint filing process; quick lookups of complaint history per officer; and interactive analyses of allegations and investigations across geography and other meaningful dimensions of life in the city such as geography, race and gender demographics.

Data Equity for Main Street (California, Nevada, Washington)

Award: $470,000
Organization: California State Library, Nevada State Library, Archives and Public Records, and State of Washington Technology Solutions
Project leads: Anne Neville, Daphne DeLeon, and Will Saunders
Twitter: @anneneville, @wabroadband, @CAstatelibrary

Most libraries offer digital literacy training that helps community members find information online and better understand it. To further promote digital equity, this project seeks to ensure that libraries can help communities take advantage of the growing amount of open data. Data Equity for Main Street will use the skills and knowledge of library professionals and civic technologists in California, Nevada and Washington to create two types of open educational resources: a train-the-trainer approach that prepares librarians to help patrons find open data resources, and a second that provides class training materials and lesson plans so that libraries can teach patrons what open data is, and how to find, use it and give feedback on its quality and relevance.

Documents Empowerment Project (Chicago)

Award: $250,000
Organization: mRelief
Project leads: Rose Afriyie and Genevieve Nielsen
Twitter: @mrelief_form

For the millions of Americans living in poverty, accessing public benefits is inextricably linked to providing documentation that proves they qualify to receive this support. With help from a Knight Prototype Fund grant, mRelief built and piloted a platform in Chicago to make it easier for families to determine their eligibility for state programs in Illinois. It also allows program providers to create an eligibility template for their services. With new funding, mRelief will scale its tool to multiple cities. The tool will also expand its text messaging service, which allows people to check their benefit eligibility via text. It will expand to include a database of required documents for benefit programs, text messaging reminders for required resources for beneficiaries, and an SMS discovery platform to help people search for the documents they need.

Law, Order and Algorithms: Making Sense of 100 Million High Patrol Stops (Stanford, Calif.)

Award: $310,000
Organization: Stanford University
Project leads: Sam Corbett-Davies, Sharad Goel, Vignesh Ramachandran, Ravi Shroff, and Camelia Simoiu
Twitter: @Stanford, @5harad

Traffic stops are one of the primary ways in which the public interacts with law enforcement, yet there is little easily accessible information on this practice. The lack of data has made it difficult to rigorously investigate public concerns of racial profiling in such interactions. To help individuals, communities and journalists understand police practices, this project will collect, release and analyze more than 100 million highway patrol stops conducted over the last several years across the United States. It will produce one of the most comprehensive data sets of police interactions with the public. Project leaders will work with journalism organizations to analyze the data and publish stories based on their findings.

PublicBits: Breaking Down Open Data Silos (Oakland, Calif.)

Award: $420,000
Organization: U.S. Open Data
Project lead: Karissa McKelvey
Twitter: @opendata, @dat_project, @captainkmac

Finding open data on a topic can be time-consuming, requiring searches across many siloed websites. PublicBits seeks to solve that problem by building a search engine that will allow users to search for information across many data portals with a single query. In addition, a desktop application will connect to the search engine, keeping track of the data source automatically and notifying the user when the data is out of date.

Security Force Monitor (New York)

Award: $237,589
Organization: The Human Rights Institute at Columbia University
Project lead: Tony Wilson
Twitter: @SecForceMonitor

Around the world, publicly available data on the police, military and other security forces is unstructured and scattered across numerous sources. This makes it difficult for journalists, human rights researchers, advocates and others to hold security forces accountable and pinpoint the source of abuses. The lack of information also undermines anti-corruption efforts, budget transparency and other public interest work. The Security Force Monitor is addressing this problem by compiling unstructured data from government sources, the media and civil society groups. The monitor structures and assigns confidence scores to this data and uses it to create an online platform with: organizational charts of the police, military and other security forces; maps of their location and jurisdictions; profiles on commanders and units; and maps and records of documented human rights abuses committed by security forces as reported by civil society organizations, the United Nations and other sources. Currently in beta, the monitor includes several years of data for Egypt, Mexico and Nigeria, and will expand to include several additional countries in its first year. All countries covered by the monitor will be kept up to date.

Weighing the Wisdom of the Crowd (Washington, D.C.)

Award: $450,000
Organization: Orb Media
Project lead: Heather Krause and Neal Rothleder
Twitter: @OrbTweet, @njr7, @datassist

Information is a critical, powerful factor in public discourse and decision-making. Good, reliable information that collects public opinions (a.k.a. crowdsourced data) is expensive, and out of reach of many individuals and organizations. While social and online tools make it easier to create surveys to gauge public opinion, they don’t consider critical features needed to meaningfully analyze and draw valid conclusions (such as demographic and socioeconomic bias). Most people don’t have the knowledge or expertise to understand and correct for these factors when they generate a survey or questionnaire. This project will create software tools and online services to help survey-makers frame sampling questions, embed them into existing survey and Q&A platforms, statistically adjust the collected results and help visualize the answers – allowing everyone to poll the crowd and share reliable results.

Prototype Fund winners

SeaGlass: Bringing Transparency to Cellphone Surveillance by University of Washington (Project leads: Peter Ney, Ian Smith, Tadayoshi Kohno; @peter_ney1, @sesotek, @yoshi_kohno | Seattle): Helping communities maintain their privacy by building a community-driven, open data service to detect cellphone surveillance and produce high-quality cellular network data for research.

Charlotte ZipBus by Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) (Project lead: Robert Cerrato; @CATSRideTransit | Charlotte, N.C.): Using real-time data via a mobile platform to transform an existing call-based transit service into an enhanced service that allows customers to schedule transit to meet their personal needs.

FOIA Mapper (Project lead: Max Galka; @galka_max | New York): Making it easier for people to find public data and make Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests by creating an open source “FOIA map,” including a catalog of government information systems, descriptions of the records they contain, and documentation of the language needed to request them.

Democratizing Data through Visual Search Results by city of Raleigh (Project lead: Adam Martin; @RaleighGov | Raleigh, N.C.): Making it easier to access and use public data through an open source project that will present data in a more visual and relevant manner through search results. For example, a search for “budget” on would yield intuitive, attractive graphs and charts.

Legislation Tracker: Beyond the Bills by NJ Spotlight (Project leads: Colleen O’Dea and Lee Keough; @njspotlight, @colleenodea, @leekeough | Trenton, N.J.): Bringing more accountability and transparency to state lawmaking by creating a tracking tool for all major bills passed in New Jersey that would provide information on whether the law was enforced and milestones were met.

Civic Infrastructure for Workers by (Project leads: Michelle Miller and Jess Kutch; @teamcoworker, @jesskutch, @michelleimiller | Washington, D.C.): Enabling workers to improve their jobs by creating tools that allow them to connect, as well as provide, share and acquire data about work issues and conditions.

Excellence In, Excellence Out – Data Quality Uplift for Government (Project lead: Stephanie Singer; @sfsinger | Portland, Ore.): Helping to improve the quality of government data by creating tools for quality assessment, a scorecard to motivate leaders to invest in data quality and a quality improvement protocol for governments.

Could Your Data Discriminate? by Data & Society Research Institute (Project leads: Sorelle Fridler; Wilneida Negron; @kdphd, @WilneidaNegron | New York): Helping people identify and fix hidden biases in their data and learn about data discrimination through a website that will allow people to test data for bias and experiment with public data to determine what may result in such bias.

Quantified Self Data Experience: Understanding Your Data and the World it Creates by University of Colorado, Boulder (Project lead: Michael Skirpan; @mwskirpan, @CUBoulder, @FastForwardLabs | Boulder, Colo.): Informing people about digital privacy, data sharing and the future of our data-driven society using performance, interactive art, digital education, data toolkits and public discussions.

Photo by justgrimes used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     Jan. 26, 2016, 2:27 p.m.
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